World Bank lowers East Asia growth forecast

By Kay Johnson, AP

MUMBAI, India–The World Bank cut its 2013 growth forecast for East Asia’s developing countries on Monday, reflecting regional powerhouse China’s slowdown plus the looming end of the United States’ cheap-money stimulus policy.

The international lender said it expects the region’s emerging economies to grow by an average of 6 percent this year, down from its April prediction of 6.5 percent.

China was forecast to expand by 7.5 percent, lower than the 8.3-percent April outlook. The world’s second-largest economy’s rapid acceleration is slowing as it shifts to an economy driven by its own consumers instead of mostly exports, and growth hit a two-decade low in the second quarter.

Other developing Asian economies have been hit by weaker demand, plus worries that the U.S. will pull back its loose monetary policy that has poured funds into emerging markets.

Lower global commodity prices and weaker-than-expected export growth have also slowed growth in larger middle-income countries including Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, the World Bank economic update said. The Philippines, though, was forecast to continue its surge of the past two years with a forecast expansion of 7 percent, nearly double the rate of two years ago.

Asia’s developing economies may get a boost now that growth is finally picking up in the U.S., Europe and Japan, traditionally their biggest export biggest markets.

“We are seeing a slowdown in domestic demand, which is a headwind, but at the same time Asia is seeing a tailwind from the revival of the rest of the global economy,” said Bert Hofman, the World Bank’s chief economist for East Asia and the Pacific.

Many emerging economies are also bracing for the U.S. Federal Reserve policymakers’ eventual wind-down of its unprecedented monetary stimulus program, which the Fed instituted to help push down interest rates and spur growth following the 2008 financial crisis. But the super-low rates led investors to overseas markets in search of higher returns.

Hints that the Fed might start to scale back the US$85 billion in bonds it buys each month as soon as September rocked developing countries’ financial markets and weakened their currencies over the summer as foreign investors started pulling funds out on the expectation of higher returns back home.

The Fed has delayed its “tapering” of the stimulus, but with advanced economies’ growth finally picking up, the end of cheap money is inevitable.

Hofman said the delay gives countries “a second opportunity” to prepare for rising global interest rates, falling currencies and possible foreign investment outflow.

He urged countries to reduce reliance on short-term foreign currency denominated debt and to enact structural reforms such as improving infrastructure and investment climate to lure back investors once the U.S. stimulus incentive dries up.